It’s been over a week since I returned from my most recent trip to Yosemite National Park, and I’m still benefitting from its effects on me. As I enter the park boundary, or escape the world of concrete in one of many other natural areas, I feel my blood pressure drop, as well as my shoulders. My eyes stop aching. The anxiety drifts away. The stench of the anthropogenic world is replaced in my nostrils by the cooling, calming, yet invigorating scents of the forest or the desert. I am home.
No, I wasn’t born in the jungle and raised by wolves. But I do feel the pull of the habitat of our long-lost ancestors.
In my studies, I have made it my goal to ignore aesthetics and any kind of “warm and fuzzy” values. I want to get to the bottom line in black and white. I often say I want to convince the Dick Cheneys of the world that nature has real value – economic value that can be seen on a balance sheet – and that that value is enormous.
I’m certainly right about all that. Lots of great scientists and economists have laid the groundwork for the inevitable and inescapable conclusion that we must manage The Earth and its resources more sustainably, lest we degrade its value and the value of its material and process gifts to us beyond the point of no return.
The Earth provides us with literally everything (except the light and energy that come from the sun) we need for life. It also provides raw materials with which we may “improve” our lives and our surroundings. I’m not actually sure the improvements really always work, but nature provides us with the options. And whether God, or Mother Nature, or some stochastic process have led to this world doesn’t matter. It’s here. It’s wonderful. And we must, for so many reasons, take good care of it.
The Earth also provides a miraculous process, akin to the flushing of a giant toilet, in the form of waste processing. We can put a lot of junk into our air and even our water and it gets filtered, digested, diluted, or incorporated into something else.
These sources and sinks, as they are known to geeky scientists and policy wonks like me, are themselves the source of an infinite amount of wonderful numbers, facts, and figures. I could put you right to sleep with all of it, I’m sure.
But I don’t really want to forget about the sights, the sounds, the smells, nor the feelings that I experience when I leave the concrete jungle behind, if only for a weekend. It’s true that I can make cold, hard, black and white arguments for nature and sustainability. But I have to admit that it depresses me that I have to.
I always feel, deep down inside, that all a person needs to do is open his or her eyes and he or she will see the path. We came from The Earth. We partner with The Earth. And if we so choose, this relationship can last far into the future… to our benefit and enjoyment.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.